By Leah McDonald / November 17th, 2022
Once you find D.U.M.A., she can assist in battle using VA. I love this. Activating D.U.M.A. will momentarily make your character invincible while you position yourself for attack. Once you release R1, D.U.M.A. slingshots you across the field at your opponent. Changing course right before you hit can trigger a Blindside, which stuns any enemies in the vicinity and increases the damage you dole out. It is supremely satisfying to pull off and can make quick work of tougher fights. Pulling off Blindsides or blocking damage while using VA can also increase your max AP, which gives you more opportunities to weave longer combos, or pull off stronger abilities. Each character can access Vatting during battle, which are unique skills granted by D.U.M.A. once you’ve filled the appropriate gauge through either inflicting or taking damage, exploiting enemy weaknesses, or using special potions. For example, Albaird’s Vatting skill is called Limitless Shadows, and he’s surrounded by multiple orbs that inflict direct damage on enemies in range, as well as add additional projectiles to all semiomancy for the duration of the attack. Laeticia’s Vatting skill is Ultimate Camui and is a massive point blank AOE. All characters share the Vatting gauge, so you can choose who uses the skill once the gauge fills. Finding a rhythm between combos, VA attacks and Vatting allows for a high ceiling in combat skill, but it’s also intuitive and easy to pick up, which makes for a fantastic battle system. D.U.M.A. has abilities you can unlock and upgrade by finding purple gems called D.U.M.A. Points scattered around the world, so exploration is also rewarding. You can activate D.U.M.A. outside of battle to search for treasure chests or fly across short distances, and it opens the world up to a lot more avenues for exploration. Flying around feels good and makes short work of large areas, but your default movement speed is also quick to start with, and you have a permanent dash ability to make it even faster. I really appreciated this. The world never felt too big to get through, but I loathe slow traversal, and the speed your character moves isn’t detrimental to either the exploration or beauty of each area.
For all the praise I can give the game’s world and combat system, there are some quite, frankly, baffling design decisions as well. The menu system is awful. The game doesn’t remember your sort options, so you need to reset them for every armor piece, regardless of if it’s for the same character or not. This gets incredibly tedious incredibly fast. Selling excess items isn’t any better, since the game doesn’t remember where you were when you sold an item and boots you back to the top of the list after every transaction. The bestiary is all but useless if you want to find where enemies actually reside, since it doesn’t deign to give you locations outside some flavor text, and that’s not even consistent between entries. You also can’t sort by enemy type, and the game just presents the entire bestiary as a long list, which is annoying to navigate. You’re inundated with tutorials early on, breaking up the flow of the game. The worst culprit, though, is the text. It is unbelievably small, and there are no options to change the size, add a background, or change colors. I often found myself straining to read, especially when menuing. The tutorials suffer for this as well. There is absolutely no excuse for text that cannot be resized or recolored. Maybe it’s better if you’re playing on PC and near the screen, but I was on the PS5 and my TV is several feet away. This is an accessibility feature that should be standard by now, and it’s frustrating that a game that relies so heavily on text is actively antagonistic against the person trying to read it. The game’s performance also suffered pretty significantly, with frame rates dropping precipitously at times. I was playing in Performance Mode, which should have optimized frame rate, but going into cities would reliably tank my FPS, and it felt like I was moving through mud. Oddly enough, I rarely if ever experienced performance issues during actual combat, no matter how hectic battles got or how many enemies were on screen. Pop-in was rampant. I have no idea how this sort of poor optimization occurred, but it was a massive black mark on a game I unabashedly loved playing and one I can’t let slide.
To go out on a positive note, I’m gonna take a moment to talk about the music, which is once again provided by the incomparable Motoi Sakuraba. This is probably my favorite OST of all the games, with a wide assortment of styles. Standouts for me are Larcette Village (“Call of the Frontier”) and Nihlbeth (“Eternal Heat”) for town and field, respectively, and “Dance of the White Blade” for battle music, but there’s honestly a plethora of fantastic choices here and you can’t really go wrong. I also like the fact that the music is different depending on if you choose Raymond or Laeticia as your lead. (You can hear examples of that here and here.) I also really like the opening theme, “Pandora,” performed by HYDE. It’s just an all around satisfying musical package.
Star Ocean: The Divine Force is absolutely the return to form I so desperately wanted for the series, and it’s a game I legitimately, whole-heartedly adore, but it’s also held back by some baffling design decisions and outright unacceptable performance issues. The music is fantastic and the cast even more so, with strong performances across the board. The story is serviceable and does a fair job at touching on some fundamental philosophical questions about governance and humanity, though it lacked the “wait, what?” surprise factor I expect from SO titles. The world is lived in and warm, and benefits from the addition of D.U.M.A. for faster and more vertical exploration. It’s also gorgeous, from detailed locales to beautiful character designs. The lack of a New Game + makes me scratch my head a bit, given the size of the game and the fact you need to play it at least twice to get the whole story. Going through the tutorials again sucks. Despite the hurdles, there is a lot to love here, and I consider this my second favorite entry in the franchise. I seriously adored playing this, but I cannot in good conscience give it a higher score due to the performance issues that plagued my playthrough. If you’re a fan of Star Ocean, this is a must buy at $59.99 USD, but if you’re just a casual RPG player, I’d say try the free demo first before committing. Absolutely grab it on sale the first chance you get, though, because it is a game worth experiencing.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
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